Sunday, May 30, 2004

The Iceman Cometh (Ji dong ji xia)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 May 2004 at Coolidge Corner #2 (Midnight Ass-Kickings)

Trying to make sense of this movie's plot will make an intelligent moviegoer's head hurt. Actually, the plot is fairly straightforward - a Ming Dynasty palace guard and the rapist/murderer he's pursuing both appear in present-day (1989) Hong Kong and continue their fight. The details, on the other hand, are all over the map - does the "Wheel of Buddha" artifact actually transport them in time, or just in space, while they are frozen in ice? What happens to the scientists who transport the frozen bodies to Hong Kong (as a pretext to get out of Communist China)? Why do they think the recently-unearthed Wheel can send them back in time? Just what the heck is the villain Fung San (Yuen Wah) doing while the movie follows Ching (Yuen Biao) during the first half-hour or so?

But it doesn't matter, nor does the apparent $1.78 production budget, because there are a few pretty spiffy fight scenes, and the last one is the best. It's a standout for the genre, filmed almost entirely in clear medium shots, and shows off just what Yuen Biao is capable of. The guy's athletic, and even when one slow motion shot clearly shows the wire that had been almost invisible when the same shot was shown at normal speed, it's still impressive. Yeun hasn't done much in Hollywood beyond a cameo in Shanghai Noon - so he's not as famous on this side of the Pacific as Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, or Jet Li, but he's as good when the action starts as any of them.

If Miramax were to pick it up for distribution, there would probably be a good half-hour cut out of it, and that wouldn't be a wholly bad thing. The sequence between Ching arriving in the twentieth century and the re-emergence of Fung San is mostly "comedy", with Maggie Cheung as the call girl who takes him in and tricks him into being her servant (women are in charge now, she says; there's even a woman on the money). It's mostly amusing but also stretched, and it's something of a relief when the punching and kicking and shooting begins again. It's one of the longer kung fu movies I've seen, clocking in at nearly two hours, and could use some trimming. And in an environment other than the Midnight Ass-Kicking, the low-rent production values, less-than-stellar acting (I wonder if they were just working Ed Wood "keep the first take" style on everything but the fight scenes), pretty much random screenplay and awful subtitles might have been annoying rather than amusing.

But Yuens Biao and Wah fight real good, and the rest kept me awake at 1am. That's what I paid my $6 for.

No comments: